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Expert Commentary: Fiber Optics at the Core of Connectivity

Photonics Spectra
Mar 2018
The continued explosion in the demand for bandwidth has become a notable issue for fiber optics. This is spurred by the growth of existing applications such as video and social networking, and the addition of new applications that require more data.


In the last 10 years, the combination of ever-increasing computational power and readily available bandwidth has stimulated advances in data science that have greatly increased the value of data, leading to a data revolution. The ubiquity of concepts such as artificial intelligence, big data, data analytics, machine learning and the Internet of Things are enabled by the vast computational capability of the cloud and the connectivity that is anticipated from 5G.

Today, the most significant breakthrough in fiber optics is simply that fiber optics itself has scaled to keep pace with demand to become the infrastructure and backbone enabling this revolution. This has been achieved by many incremental improvements at all levels of optical communication technology — better fiber, smaller and denser cables, simplified installation, smaller and more efficient transceivers with ever-increasing bandwidth, more efficient signal coding, improved signal processing and error correction, and even an increased pace at the standards bodies. Exponential growth in bandwidth has required advances in the entire ecosystem.

However, this success naturally leads to the most critical challenge — at some point the advancement starts to slow. We’re now approaching fundamental limits in the information-carrying capacity of optical fiber, so further advances become harder and harder.

To meet future demand, fiber optics has to become more scalable. Cost will decrease naturally as volume increases, but installation and operation do not scale well. Since additional optical hardware will be required, the industry needs rapid improvement in integration to simplify deployment. Everything has to become smaller and cheaper and use less power.

It’s remarkable that the use of data and internet connectivity has become a central part of everyone’s personal and professional lives.

David J. DiGiovanniHowever, the infrastructure and technological achievements that enable it are largely invisible to the user. Fiber optics is the core, but few people even know what it is.

For the near future, I expect more of the same: continued improvement in bandwidth and capacity at lower price per installed bit. Just as in the past, incremental improvement at all levels of the ecosystem will be required going forward.

David J. DiGiovanni, Ph.D., is chief technology officer of OFS Fitel and president of OFS Laboratories.

fiber opticsdataInternet of Thingsoptical communicationOFSbandwidthD. J. DiGiovanniexpertFiber Optics Special Section

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